A former National Security Agency Contractor-turned-whistleblower was granted Russian citizenship.
Edward Snowden has been living in Russia since 2013. He had previously been granted permanent residency in 2020.
Snowden revealed the NSA and the UK’s GCHQ use of highly classified intelligence-gathering surveillance programs. He accumulated classified documents detailing the operations of the programs while working for the NSA from 2009 to 2013. In 2013, he flew to Hong Kong and turned over the documents to a reporter from The Guardian.
He was charged with two counts of espionage and theft of government property by the U.S. government and ultimately left Hong Kong for Russia, where he has remained to avoid prosecution. He was granted temporary asylum.
“Snowden’s discoveries drew open the curtain on many classified NSA programs including PRISM, an undercover data-mining operation that collected private data of users from companies such as Apple, Facebook, Google and AOL,” stated the National Whistleblowers Center. “Additionally, included in Snowden’s exposures was an NSA court order compelling internet service provider, Verizon, to turn over metadata for millions of its users.”
A review panel formed by President Barack Obama after the publication of Snowden’s documents’ ruled in December 2013 that metadata of Americans’ cell phones should no longer be collected by the government.
“In our view, the current storage by the government of bulk metadata creates potential risks to public trust, personal privacy, and civil liberty,” stated the report, per The Guardian. “The government should not be permitted to collect and store mass, undigested, non-public personal information about US persons for the purpose of enabling future queries and data-mining for foreign intelligence purposes.”
President Vladimir Putin signed a decree on Sept. 26 granting Snowden and 75 other foreign nationals citizenship. While he was already permitted to travel freely throughout the country, citizenship will come with added benefits for Snowden, per The Washington Examiner.
Snowden’s wife, American acrobat and blogger Lindsay Mills, left the United States for Russia in 2014 to be with her then-boyfriend. They were married in 2017.
The couple has one child who was born at the end of 2020 and who is a Russian citizen.
A long time in the making: our greatest collaboration is coming soon. pic.twitter.com/ElI9taxWOS
— Lsjourney (@lsjourneys) October 28, 2020
The former security contractor said he intended to apply for Russian citizenship but would not renounce his American citizenship.
“After years of separation from our parents, my wife and I have no desire to be separated from our son. That’s why, in this era of pandemics and closed borders, we’re applying for dual US-Russian citizenship,” Snowden wrote on Twitter in November of 2020.
“Lindsay and I will remain Americans, raising our son with all the values of the America we love—including the freedom to speak his mind,” he continued in the thread. “And I look forward to the day I can return to the States, so the whole family can be reunited.”
“Our greatest wish is that, wherever our son lives, he feels at home,” Snowden added.
Each espionage charge can come with a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.
In October of 2020, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia upheld a case brought against Snowden by the U.S. government, which alleged he violated the nondisclosure agreements he signed while working with the NSA and CIA by not submitting his 2019 memoir, Permanent Record, for a pre-publication review. The court ordered Snowden to pay $5 million from book royalties and speaking fees.